Terri Schiavo case is about all of us

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The Article

The story of Easter is about dying, then death and the resurrection of Jesus.

In its theological rendition, this is an annual story of hope, reminding Christians that though death is certain, mortality does not vanquish life, which comes with a promise of returning to God.

But there is the other, more compelling story about Jesus, not confined only to Christians, of His human condition, deserted and betrayed, frail and broken, alone against all the forces of a mighty empire, judged and then condemned to death.

In this story Jesus is every man, woman and child whose life is wrenched away from his wounded grasp against his wishes, and for no crime other than for having become an inconvenience to those with power to run other people’s lives.

The story of Terri Schiavo—and what a coincidence this is—happens to frame this year’s Easter celebration as a reminder that life is most frail, vulnerable and disposable when it is deemed an inconvenience to the living.

We have come to learn over the past week some aspects of the sad story of Schiavo’s condition. However this condition is described, Schiavo is a living person, not on life support. She has been in this state, unable to communicate and fed by a tube for the past 15 years.

Her case has been widely discussed, and perhaps a point was reasonably reached in the court deliberations that nothing new would be discovered medically to indicate any possibility for reversing her condition.

We might also assume that, legally, all possible arguments from every angle concerning those involved in taking care of Schiavo were cogently made, weighed and exhausted.

Then we arrived at the present situation where her feeding tube was removed, the courts upheld that decision, and she was left to die of starvation and dehydration.

If this judicial decision to let Schiavo die is right now, would it not have been right if it had been reached 15 years ago? And if it had been wrong then to let her die, why is it not wrong now?

In the emotional storm surrounding this case, what has become obscured is her right to live, irrespective of how strained and diminished her life became, and despite how inconvenient her being alive was to some people.

In condemning Schiavo to die before her time, the powerful have spoken and the message is unmistakable. Life for them is a measurable quantity on a scale of convenience, not an immeasurable quality as a gift from a higher source, to be respected and cherished for what it symbolizes, not based on its maintenance costs.

It is true that in our world of finite resources and infinite demands, society is compelled to make difficult choices. This is the paradox of living, of sometimes having to choose between two outcomes when neither is positive.

In Terri Schiavo’s case, the choice was between her husband’s wish to terminate her life (withholding any judgment on his intent) and her parents’ wish to care for her. Here, respect for life should have trumped the argument favouring death.

It is quite possible that if Schiavo had the ability to communicate, she might well have indicated an unwillingness to endure her condition any further. Such an indication, however, would not have released the courts from the ethical dilemma of assisted suicide.

But in the absence of any such communication—even a living will would not entirely exempt the courts from the dilemma of interpreting the will under the changing conditions of medical science, or the uncertainty that an individual could revise his or her decision—terminating life, as in the case of Terri Schiavo, amounts to a court-approved homicide.

We are then left to reflect upon the world of our making. The Easter story of Jesus’ death was ultimately about us, and now Schiavo’s story is one more confirmation of this discomforting reality.

?2005 – Salim Mansur is a columnist at Canada’s Sun Media.  His column appears at ProudToBeCanadian.ca with Salim Mansur’s express permission by special arrangement with him.  Link to ProudToBeCanadian.ca.

Salim Mansur
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